MANILA (Mabuhay) – Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on Tuesday said the National Bureau of Invetigation is already investigating the possible involvement of a lawmaker from the Cagayan Valley Region in the Department of Budget and Management’s supposed release of “fake” Special Allotment Release Orders (SAROs) worth P879 million for farm-to-market-road projects in four regions.
In an interview with reporters, De Lima said the anomaly involved “12 to 13 fake SAROs” that were presented to the Department of Agriculture Regional Field Offices not only in Cagayan Valley (Region 2) but also in Calabarzon (Region 4A), Western Visayas (Region 6), and Soccsksargen (Region 12).
“Staff ng isang congressman from Region 2 ang unang nagpakita ng fake SARO na iyan, doon sa regional field unit of Region 2… So we do not know what is the extent of the participation of that particular congressman. Is he an innocent recipient of the SARO or not?” said De Lima, adding that the lawmaker’s staff had already been issued a subpoena.
De Lima refused to identify the lawmaker while investigation is ongoing.
According to the Commission on Audit, a SARO is a “specific authority issued to one or more identified agencies to incur obligations not exceeding a given amount during a specified period for the purpose indicated.”
“It shall cover expenditures the release of which is subject to compliance with specific laws or regulations or are subject to separate approval or clearance by competent authority,” COA added.
De Lima said the NBI, which is under the Department of Justice, is looking into the possibility of an “inside job” in the latest fund mess.
“The NBI was able to talk already to some DBM officials and employees kasi siyempre ang gustong malaman first and foremost ng DBM, nanggaling ba ‘yung fake SARO na iyon from within DBM?” De Lima said.
“Although ang iniisip ko nga, ganun din ang NBI, mukhang mahirap paniwalaan, mukhang mahirap isipin na walang involved na taga-DBM dahil ‘pag i-compare mo nga kopya ng signed but fake SARO doon sa kopya ng original unsigned SARO and still unreleased and has been canceled SARO ay tumutugma lahat ng particulars,” she said.
De Lima said that except for differences in font styles, the fake SAROs contained the same SARO numbers, codes, amount of money, dates, and name of signatories as the authentic ones.
“So saan nanggaling iyon? Iyon ang gusto nating malaman… Are these isolated cases of fake SAROs floating around? Is this something na dati nang gawa-gawa? Prevalent ba iyan?
“We need to look into these, what appears to be an insidious scheme or practice of SARO peddling. Ano ba ang scheme na ‘yan? Ano bang pakulo ‘yan? Ano bang anomaly ‘yan?” she said.
The Justice chief said the fake SAROs were discovered only last month at the height of the pork barrel fund mess involving businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles who allegedly used non-existent foundations to divert Priority Development Assistance Funds with the help of several lawmakers and implementing government agencies.
De Lima said the NBI had already coordinated with the DBM to determine the process involved in preparing and releasing SAROs, so the investigating agency would be able to track down the individuals to be probed.
“Saan ba nag-o-originate ‘yan? Anong opisina specifically ang una na nagpo-process niyan? Anong opisina ang unang pinagdadaanan niyan? Sinu-sino ang nagpe-prepare supposedly ng mga pieces of documents na iyan?” she said.
De Lima said officials from the DA regional office in Cagayan Valley became doubtful when the staff of the unnamed congressman came up to the office with the fake SARO.
“Nagtaka ‘yung DA Region 2 kasi ordinarily dapat sila muna makaalam kasi they are supposed to be the implementing agency. Bakit merong staff ng isang congressman ang may hawak-hawak ng SARO? Iyon ang nag-alert sa kanila,” said De Lima, adding that the regional officials were then prompted to inquire about the SARO with the main office of the DBM, eventually learning that the SARO was fake.
“So ano ‘yan? May agenda ba iyan? Sinusubukan na naman ba na magnakaw sa kaban ng bayan? O merong iba? You cannot rule out other agenda,” De Lima said. (MNS)